The Australian guide to Hilton Honors

Hilton Honors is one of the world’s largest and most popular hotel loyalty programs. Today, we take a look at how to maximize value and benefits from an Australian perspective.

Brands

Brands include (in rough order of luxury to budget):

  • Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts
  • Conrad Hotels & Resorts
  • Hilton
  • Curio A Collection by Hilton
  • Embassy Suites by Hilton
  • Tapestry Collection by Hilton
  • Canopy by Hilton
  • DoubleTree by Hilton
  • Homewood Suites by Hilton
  • Hilton Garden Inn
  • Hampton by Hilton
  • Home2 Suites by Hilton
  • Tru by Hilton
  • Hilton Grand Vacations (timeshare)

Sign-up Link

Hilton Honors is free to join, sign up here.

Current promotions

Hilton is one of the best when it comes to promotions because most offers are stackable, registering for all of them means you can concurrently benefit from several promotions at the same time.

For the latest promotions, please check this page.

Recent changes

In early 2017 Hilton made the following changes:

  • A new Points & Money system where rooms can be paid using a mix of points and cash.
  • Family pooling allowing points to be pooled between up to 10 family members for free.
  • Diamond members have access to a one year status extension as a one-off benefit.
  • Points can be used for Amazon purchases.
  • Program name changed from HHonors to Honors.

Common questions

What is the qualification period (how to move to higher tier)?
Qualification is based on calendar year (i.e. 1 January – 31 December). You must fulfill the tier requirements before 31 December each year.

What is the membership period (how long do elite benefits last)?
Elite benefits last for rest of the year, next year, until 31 March of the following year. E.g. A person qualifying for Silver in June 2017 will retain Silver until 31 March 2019. Re-qualifying in 2018 will push expiry to 31 March 2020.

Do points expire?
Points expire if there’s no account activity in 12 months. Account activity includes staying at a hotel, earning points (including from credit cards), redeeming points, transferring points (from AMEX Membership Rewards, for example), and purchasing points. Point transfers from other members and Family Pooling are not considered eligible account activity.

How many points is needed for a free night?
Anywhere between 5,000 to 95,000 points depending on the hotel tier and seasonal demand.

Do Points & Money nights count towards status/earn points?
Points & Money nights will count towards status. However, only the cash portion will earn points.

Do Reward Nights and Free Night Certificates count towards status?
Yes, but do not earn points.

Tier benefits

Member is attained immediately upon joining, and earns 10 base points per U.S dollar spent. Benefits include member-only pricing (in Australia ~A$10 cheaper), free Internet and availability-based late checkout. Second guest also stays free at hotels where this is normally charged.

Silver is attained after 4 stays or 10 nights in a year. Silver members earn 15% bonus points on top of base points. Benefits include free bottled water and 5th night free when booking with points.

Gold is attained after 20 stays, 40 nights or 75,000 base points (USD$7,000 spend) in a year. Gold members earn 25% bonus points on top of base points. Benefits include free continental breakfast and space-available room upgrade. If the upgraded room is on Executive Floor, there is also complementary lounge access.

Diamond is attained after 30 stays, 60 nights or 120,000 base points (USD$12,000 spend) in a year. Diamond members earn 50% bonus points on top of base points. Key benefits include guaranteed lounge access and 48-hour room guarantee. Other benefits include 250 – 1,000 additional bonus points per stay and free premium Internet.

My view on tier benefits

On the whole, Hilton Honors provide a strong set of benefits. At base level, it’s the only major program to give availability-based late check-out. Some argue this isn’t really a benefit because anyone can request a late check-out, but I disagree. Having this benefit means, at least in theory, the hotel needs to accommodate your late check-out as long as there is availability. This is very different to late check-out completely based on the hotel’s discretion.

At 4 stays/10 nights, Silver is one of the easiest elite status to qualify. Unfortunately, it also means there’s not much benefits. 15% more points and free bottled water is nice, but not something worth aiming for.

The real sweet spot is Gold – widely recognized as the best mid-tier status of any hotel program. Free continental breakfast and space-available room upgrade are arguably two of the most valuable perks for hotel stays. Although the benefit states ‘continental breakfast’, in reality most hotels interpret this as full buffet breakfast. This alone could save hundreds, especially for two travelling together. Room upgrade at the Gold level generally means one category up, which is nice because you can avoid the worst rooms in the hotel (think low-level, next to the air-con type). If luck is on your side and you get upgraded to an Executive Floor room, you also get lounge access!

The benefit at Diamond is marginal at best. The only real benefit is guaranteed lounge access. There is a 48 hour room guarantee – meaning a room will always be available when booked more than 48 hours in advance – but the price is usually much higher. As for premium Internet, I generally find no difference to standard Internet. The bonus points are worth A$10 at best.

Getting to gold fast

Fortunately, there are a few tricks to getting Gold and Diamond status immediately, without having to spend the necessary stays.

Hilton HHonors Macquarie Platinum Card
I own this credit card and I keep it for status benefits and free nights. Cardholders get complementary Hilton Honors Gold status. There’s also Free Night Certificates that can be earned, and Diamond is available after A$40,000 spend per year. There’s a A$295 annual fee, but sometimes there are annual-fee promotions (which was when I signed up).

American Express Platinum Card
The ultimate travel credit card. Gives elite status at Hilton, Club Carlson, SPG and Shangri-La, in addition to lounge access and other travel benefits. Unfortunately, it has a prohibitively high A$1,200 annual fee.

Virgin Velocity
Hilton’s partnership with Virgin means Velocity Gold and above members can get a choice of complementary Hilton Honors Gold or IHG Rewards Gold. I would choose Hilton as the benefits are much more substantial.

Earning points

On hotel stays, points are separated into base points and bonus points. Base point is earned at a fixed 10 base points per U.S dollar spent. Elite members earn bonus points based on their tier status.

In addition, an unique Hilton Honors feature is all members can choose between Points & Points, which gives an additional 5 Honors points per US dollar spent, or Points & Miles, which gives additional airline miles (rate depending on the airline). Generally, I recommend staying with Points & Points if you enjoy redeeming free hotel nights. If you prefer airline miles, Virgin Velocity currently earns at double the rate of Qantas Frequent Flyer, making it the better choice.

Other ways to earn points include:

  • Credit cards – either earned directly or transferred from AMEX Membership Rewards.
  • Family pooling – points pooled from up to 10 family members with no fee.
  • Receive points – points can be sent and received between Honors members with no fee.
  • Buy points – buy points directly at USD 1c per point, sometimes lower with promotions.

Redeeming points – what are points worth?

I value Hilton Honors points at 0.7 Australian cents.

Point values are quite subjective. Consider this: a free night at Conrad Maldives costs 95,000 points. During the quiet season, a standard room costs about A$950. Redeeming 95,000 points would mean each point is worth exactly 1 cent. During peak season however, the same room might cost A$3,800. Redeeming 95,000 would then yield a value of 4 cents per point – significantly better value. The concept here is simple – cash prices fluctuate, but point price is fixed. However, you might argue, you would have never went during peak-season anyway, or would have stayed somewhere else. Ultimately, I consider the value of points what you can normally redeem them for, based on your travel habits.

Based on this consideration, I put Honors points at 0.7 cents per point. This is a value that I can regularly get at most Australian hotels during the year. When it’s below this value, I would pay cash instead, and save my points for another day. When it’s above, I consider myself getting a good deal, and would use points.

Redemption choices

Redeeming for hotel nights is by far the best use of points. Specifically, this is either in the form of Standard Room Rewards, where the entire room is paid for using points, or Points & Money, where a mix of cash and points is used.

Hilton also makes upgraded rooms and suites available, in the form of Premium Room Rewards, however this is generally poor value unless combined with specific promotions. The other option is to redeem points for room upgrades, but again the value is generally poor and it’s something you’ll receive with elite status anyway.

You can also redeem points for things outside of hotel nights for things like shopping and transfer to airline miles, but these generally have the worst value.

Understanding point costs

Put simply, Hilton operates under a system where hotels are divided into 10 categories, with each category capped at a certain number of points required for a free night. These range from 5,000 points for a free night in a category 1 hotel, to 95,000 points in a category 10 hotel. You can find a hotel’s point cap using Hilton’s tool. Other than the cap, the amount of points required fluctuates in line with cash price.

For example, a free night in Hilton Sydney, using the tool above, can cost up to 70,000 points. Checking online however, a room tonight costs only A$283 in cash, or 48,000 in points. As the cash price goes higher, the amount of points required will also go up, to a limit of 70,000 points.

Redeeming 48,000 points for a room tonight would yield a value of 0.6 cents per point, which is slightly below my valuation.

Getting the best value

The best value redemptions are usually during peak-seasons, when cash prices can be astronomically high, but point cost is capped at the maximum. This is especially the case for hotels on the two extremes of the scale – category 1 – 3 budget hotels which have a low maximum cap, and category 10 ultra-luxury hotels which has a 95,000 point cap.

Let’s look at two examples to demonstrate this.

On the lower extreme, we have DoubleTree by Hilton Kuala Lumpur, which has a 10,000 point cap. Redeeming 10,000 points instead of paying A$150 for a peak-season night would yield a value of 1.5 cents per point.

On the higher extreme, we have previously mentioned Conrad Maldives, where during peak season cash prices are in the thousands. As such, using 95,000 points instead of paying A$3,800 would yield a value of 4 cents per point.

To get even better value, consider booking 4 consecutive nights using points to take advantage of Hilton’s 5th night free, effectively reducing the point cost by 20% per night.

Summary

Well that’s all there is! Hilton Honors is one of my favourite hotel programs right now, thanks to Hilton’s promotions all year round, easy elite status through it’s co-branded credit card (the only such card in Australia) and arguably the best mid-tier benefits out of any hotel program. If you enjoy staying at Hilton portfolio hotels, taking advantage of Hilton Honors benefits will substantially add to the experience.

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